10 brightest ideas of the week: March 28 

1. Airport tracker

TSA wants to see how long people are standing in line

The details: Ever wonder why your phone can pinpoint your exact location, but it doesn’t seem to help you? Well, the Transportation Security Administration wants to change that. The agency is investigating installing devices at airports that would use emissions from your smartphone or PDA to track how long people are stuck in security lines. While the information would be used to prevent checkpoint snarls, civil-liberties experts are concerned about Big Brother getting too close.

2. Homeowners get help

BofA to cut ­principal on some underwater mortgages

The details: Bank of America Corp. will forgive $3 billion of loan principal for 45,000 homeowners after an accord with 44 states that had pressed the bank to modify mortgages. The program, developed after talks with state attorneys general, targets borrowers who owe more than 120 percent of what their homes are worth. Nationwide, homes have lost at least 28 percent of their value since their 2006 peak, data show. Under the program, up to 30 percent of principal balances will be forgiven if borrowers make timely mortgage payments for five years.

3. On top of spaghetti

World’s largest meatball donated to Meals on Wheels

The details: Michigan’s Glen Oaks Community College beefed up its reputation by setting a new world record for making the world’s largest meatball. The hunk of chuck tipped the scales at 327 pounds, besting the previous record, set last year and made by a team headed up by Jimmy Kimmel. The intrepid Glen Oaks cooks fed spectators, then donated the remaining 250 pounds of meatball to Meals on Wheels. Will the next record to fall be “most spaghetti sauce cooked”?

4. Ivy League

Harvard offers free oncampus lectures on iTunes

The details: Harvard University is the latest in a line of prestigious schools to offer lectures and podcasts free of charge on iTunes University. Highlights include recordings of the PBS special “Justice,” classes on public health and performances by Yo-Yo Ma.

5. Present from the feds

Government cracks down on gift card restrictions

The details: Sometimes gift cards aren’t quite the boon they might seem — shoppers get stung by unexpected fees, restrictions and expiration dates. More than 95 percent of Americans have received a gift card at some point, and now the government is cracking down on things like fees that eat into the cards’ value if they’re not used by a certain date. The new rules, effective Aug. 22, say buyers must have at least five years to use the cards before they expire and that service and inactivity fees can be imposed only under some conditions.

6. Lift off

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip in air

The details: SpaceShipTwo made its first flight this week and has been undergoing ground testing. Virgin Galactic has not revealed a date for the spaceship to start blasting off for commercial space flights, but say flights will not happen before 2011. After testing is done on glide flights, the spaceship will begin subsonic powered flights, supersonic powered flights, and finally suborbital space flights before starting its certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration.
 

7. Blacked out

Trainer’s family wants SeaWorld video sealed from public

The details: Relatives of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, who was killed Feb. 24 when she was dragged into the water by a killer whale, say they will suffer severe harm if the video of the incident is released to the public. Brancheau was killed when the killer whale, named Tilikum, grabbed her by the ponytail and tossed her around. The attorney for her family members said their right to privacy should outweigh the public’s right to view the video.

8. Unexpected windfall

Muni riders may be saved from reduced service

The details: This week Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that will provide state funding to local transit agencies. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, will receive $36 million. BART will take in $26 million and Caltrain $5 million. The SFMTA recently closed a $12.2 million deficit for this fiscal year, in part by approving a 10 percent service reduction — planned for May — and by increasing Fast Pass prices for passengers. Mayor Gavin Newsom said he wants the SFMTA to use the money to reverse its fare increases and offset the planned service reductions.

9. Chili grenade

India’s new ­anti-terrorism weapon uses hot peppers

The details: India’s military successfully tested a new type of tear gas weapon powered by “bhut jolokia.” Rated by Guinness as the world’s strongest chili, bhut jolokia has been farmed in India for centuries. It is approximately half a million times hotter than the spiciest jalapeño pepper and supposedly cures digestive ills. The homegrown Chili Grenade will be used to choke terrorists out of their hideouts. Tests are also underway to develop a bhut jolokia aerosol spray like Mace.

10. Green taxis

More than half of S.F. cabs are environmentally friendly

The details: Mayor Gavin Newsom announced this week that San Francisco is more than halfway to the goal of having 90 percent or more of its fleets running on alternative energy. The milestone comes nearly two years after The City passed legislation requiring taxicab companies to convert their fleets to hybrids and compressed natural gas vehicles. As 57 percent of San Francisco’s cabs are hybrids or compressed natural gas vehicles, The City is one step closer to fulfilling the city mandate of rolling back emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. Emissions from San Francisco taxicabs are now at 12 percent of 1990 levels — the equivalent to taking 4,700 cars off city streets, Newsom said.

 

Bright light of the week

 

Jim Marshall

The music photographer who spent more than 50 years capturing rock ’n’ rollers including Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Marshall was credited with photographing more than 500 album covers, and captured such iconic images as Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire, The Who performing at Woodstock in 1969 and Johnny Cash “flipping the bird” at a 1969 performance at San Quentin Prison. The San Francisco resident passed away this week at 74. He was raised in the Fillmore district and spent most of his life in The City.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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